Friday, June 27, 2008

Salami + Bike Racing = Bad Idea

I had originally planned to race in Iowa but with the race postponed because of flooding, I headed down to Mankato, MN instead to do the Bluff Rider Charge at Mt. Kato. Mt. Kato has some really fun trails that are mostly smooth and fast with lots of high speed corners, along with several really sketchy, rooty, off-camber technical descents to keep you honest as well. So the course was great--one of the most fun courses so far this year--and the weather was perfect...but for some reason, I decided it was a good idea to eat a salami sandwich an hour before my race. Salami and bike racing do not compliment each other well I quickly found out...who would have thought?

My day was pretty much over before the racing began, so I just enjoyed the fun trails and tried to stay out of people's way after my fast start quickly faded into salami induced mellow pace. Here are a few pics from the race:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A brilliant idea!

The slip and slide that Chris and Katie put together at Kristin's wedding got me thinking this video that I saw a while back of a group of guys who construct a slip and slide off their roof. This is such a brilliant idea (though the guy wearing the sling might not agree)!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kristin's Wedding

I flew back to DC last week to join the celebration of Nick and Kristin getting married. Overall this was definitely one of the most fun, most laid back weddings I have ever been to. You can tell a lot about a couple and a family from how they choose to approach their wedding, like what they value and how they handle big projects and stress. From watching the wedding come together, it was pretty easy to see what a great couple Kristin and Nick make. Here are some photos from the wedding:

Here's a video of Dave showing everyone his inpeccable form on the slip and slide:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Johan Bruyneel is a swell guy

On Wednesday night I saw Johan Bruyneel give a talk at Politics & Prose about his new book that just came out, "We Might as Well Win" about his years of working as team director of Lance Armstrong and the Postal/Discovery Cycling Teams. I was impressed by both the casualness of the event and how accessible Johan seemed. Given his huge success over the last decade (8 Tour de France victories as team director in 9 years!) I thought he might come off as a little cocky, but that was not the case at all. The title of Johan's book refers to the moment when he proposed to Armstrong that if the team was going to do the Tour de France, then they might as well win it. No one thought that Armstrong could contend for the overall because he supposedly wasn't a climber...but Johan believed in him and said that once he got Armstrong to that he could be grand-tour winner (the hardest part of the whole process Johan said), the rest just putting the pieces together. The bike critics give Johan's book a decent review, though he does generalize things for non-cyclists. I especially liked hearing Johan talk about Armstrong and his potential as an athlete. A cyclists strength to power ratio basically is the key number that tells you how fast someone can go, but Johan said that Armstrong did not always have the highest ratio on his team. He also said that he thought Jan Ullrich had greater athletic talent than Armstrong but that Armstrong had better strategy and focus. It was pretty cool hearing the opinion on cycling issues from one of the best team directors out there.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Milwaukee is pretty rockin'

I swung by Milwaukee to visit my friend Josh and his parents before flying back to DC for a wedding. I didn't know much about Milwaukee before arriving, but I left impressed by the city. Josh took me to a spy-themed bar called the Safe House that you should definitely check out if you're ever in Milwaukee. I was also was impressed by the Milwaukee Art Museum. It's definitely worth a visit if you haven't been there. The entry way to the Quadracci Pavilion feels like a combination between a futuristic movie set and the entry way to heaven. A big thanks to Josh's parents for graciously taking care of my car! Thanks Judy and Howard! See you in Seattle!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wisconsin Stage Racing

I've heard a lot over the years about the good bike culture Wisconsin, especially around Madison, but the Subaru Cup would be my first mountain bike race in the state as well as my first stage race ever. The flooding that hit Iowa hard mostly left Mt. Morris, located an hour north of Madison untouched. I arrived on Friday night to grab a camping site and get ready for the cross country race the next day. That night I met a number of really friendly folks, including Jan, Ross and his daughter Anna who I tossed a frisbee around with for a while. Jan helped me out a ton the next day by letting me hang out in the shade of his pop-up tent instead of getting fried under the hot sun.

Cross Country
The Subaru Cup is a national calendar race and looked to have big fields, so I was excited to see where I would finish. Once I arrived at the start and saw the 48 people in the Sport 19-34 category, I realized I should have arrived at the start line earlier. After the top 10 in the series were called up, I ended up lining up on the 4th row with probably 30 guys in front of me. The race started out with an immediate climb up the base of Nordic Mountain that allowed me to catch up to the front guys within the first mile. After some initial shuffling, I caught up to the race leader whose name was Jesse and we rode together for the rest of the race. The course consisted of lots of rolling single track with several spots with tight corners and technical rocky sections but no long descents where you could rest. Whoever designed this course did a really good job of laying out the turns and picking the terrain. Jesse and I took turns leading, briefly chatting about strategy and the need to keep things smooth to ensure that we didn't get caught by someone from behind. On the final lap of three laps, I pulled away by a few hundred feet on one of the climbs, which Jesse closed coming into the finishing singletrack section. I exited the single track first and started my sprint as I heard Jesse swing to my right to start his sprint in the longer grass. We both threw our bikes across the line and I ended up getting first by an inch or two. That was definitely the closest finish I've ever had in a bike race! Our close finish meant that I had a .2 lead over Jesse going into Sunday's Super D and Short Track races and 3:30 on the guy who finished in third place.

Super D
Though Nordic Mountain has only 265 feet of vertical, it feels like at least 3 times that tall for some reason. For the Super D we would take the chair lift to the top of the mountain and ride down sections of the xc course in reverse to make for about a 10 minute race that was about 75% downhill. I managed to miss the start of my category, but the race officials were cool and let me start with the citizens group, which meant that I was basically on my own with no idea how I was doing in comparison to Jesse and the rest of the people in my category. The course was really fun with some great fast, flowing downhill switchback sections. I ended up finishing 17 seconds behind Jesse which moved me into second in the overall standings. I continued my Super D problems by missing the award ceremony for the race...looks like I have some work to do on my Super D just getting to the start line to start with.
Short Track
Like the Super D, this was my first Short Track race ever. The race would be really short, only 10 minutes plus 1 lap on a course that took about 3 minutes per lap. We lined up with all the age categories of the sport class, but this time I squeezed into a spot on the front line. I had a great start and rode in the front of race for a couple of laps before a junior rider passed me. I kept looking back and seeing the gap between me and Jesse opening, so I was just hoping that I would end up with more than a 17 second advantage. Every time I came through the start/finish area, the announcer would shouted out my name, place and that I was from Washington, DC, which I think confused people. On the second to last lap he blew up on the one steep hill on the course and I kept the pressure on to the end to finish 51 seconds up on Jesse.

When all the dust settled, I ended up finishing first in the Sport 19-34 stage race, 34 seconds up on Jesse. Overall this is one of the best put together races that I have been to. Everyone was super friendly, the trails were great, and the venue was perfect with good camping and access to the lodge. Even the weather was perfect with sunny skies and hot temps. I ended up the weekend with some sweet tan lines on my forehead from my helmet vents! A huge thanks again to Jan for lending me some much needed shade and a place to sit in between races!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Now those are some big wheels

I took this photo on a ride between Northfield and Faribault, MN. It's nice being back under the big sky of Minnesota. On this ride, I swung by Mill Town Cycles to say Ben Witt who owns the place. I know Ben from college back when he worked at the local shop in Northfield before he decided to strike out on his own and open his own shop. I was especially impressed by Ben's bike, which has 36 inch wheels! Forget the debate about 26 inch wheels vs. 29 inch wheels, Ben says it's all about the 36 inch wheeled bike, of which there are only about 6 in the country.

Ben worked with Mike Pofahl to design this bike, which he says has a wheel base that is only 2 inches longer than his normal bike. All of the measurements between his seat, handlebars, bottom bracket, etc. are exactly the same as on his regular 26 inch wheel bike. I didn't get a chance to ride the bike or find out where he gets the wheels/tires, but this sure looks like one fun bike to ride.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How do we handle high gas prices? Manpower!

Miller High life gets it right on this one (from StreetsBlog):

Also, I came across this comic on the same website:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Bike Racing Birthday in Minnesota

After a great couple of days visiting in Cleveland, South Bend and Chicago, I was pretty psyched up to race on my birthday in Minnesota at Afton Alps. With only 351 feet of vertical, I think someone had a sense of humor when they added Alps to the name of the ski area. Adding the the irony, the race was called the "Afton Avalanche" which conjured up images of...well, alps filled with snow, not 351 feet ski areas in June. But having gone to college in Minnesota and experienced some sound ass kickings on tough courses in the area, I knew better than to start getting uppity about the course. That and after a night torrential rain, it looked like a mudfest was possible.

Rolling up to the race not knowing anyone was a bit strange after having raced alongside so many friends in New England during the previous two weeks , but everyone was really friendly and it seemed like a good scene. After a good warm-up I lined up alongside the 14 other guys in my Sport 19-29 category. I came off the start in third position but quickly passed the two guys ahead of me before diving into the single track. Afton has done a great job with trail design and has some really nice, fast single track with tight corners and good flow as well as decently technical rocks sections (but no roots...which was OK by me). The trail alternated between uphill switchbacks on the ski slopes and tight, twisty single track in the woods. Dipping in and out of the woods, I slowly zig-zagged my way up the mountain.

After building up a pretty big lead in the first half of the first lap, I eased up the pace a little bit. As I finished the first lap, I looked back to see a guy in white closing in on me so I picked the pace up again. He was gaining time on the climbs and ended up catching up to me a third of the way through the first lap. I was suffering on the longest climb of the course when he caught me, so I considered appealing to his sense of charity to let me win since it was my birthday after all. Instead, I decided that I'd really make him work to pass me and I raised the pace going into the singletrack descent. I found that I was able to open a good gap on the twisty, greasy descents and switchbacks, which he slowly reeled in on the climbs. We yo-yo'ed back and forth like this for a while until we came to the final climb. I knew that if I was able to get to the top before him, I probably could outkick him on the long ski-slope descent into the finish. I crested the top of the hill with a 10 foot lead which I padded a bit more in the long, swooping descent to the finish.

Coming into the finish, I was all set to contest the sprint when at the last second I noticed a sign marking the finishing chute to the left. I tried to correct my path but ended up running directly into the sign and getting all tangled up in it. I ended up knocking the sign over and rolling over the line 1 second in front of the other guy--so much for my smooth raised-arm victory salute! All around though, it was about the best birthday present I was able to give myself. The next guy in our category finished 8 minutes behind I think racing in New England and the DC area is a bit faster...but hey, I'll take the birthday win nonetheless, especially since I haven't won a bike race in 10 years! Actually, the terrain of the Afton Alps course felt pretty similar to a the race courses around DC, though just with fewer riders.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ray's Indoor MTB Park, Cleveland

bOn my way west I stopped in Cleveland to check out Ray's MTB Indoor Park, a 70,000 square foot indoor bike park located in an old industrial park. Unfortunately the park is closed in the summer, so I wasn't sure I'd even be able to get in to check it out, let alone ride, but luckily Ray (with me in the picture to the left) and his crew were inside making improvements for next year and Ray was nice enough to show me around and chat about how the park works.

I've got to say, this park is pretty much the raddest thing I have ever seen. If you're into bikes, this place is heaven. There is something for every type of rider, including a cross country course around the perimeter with lots of techical offshoot options, a ball pit for practicing aerials, a pump course, a urban park, and even sections with rocks and logs laid down as terrain. It's hard to explain how cool this place is without pictures/video (and I didn't even get to ride) so hopefully this will give you a better sense:

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Pat's Peak MTB Festival (NH)

I was pretty excited for the second race of my road trip at Pat's Peak because my uncle Dan and friend Amelia were coming along to cheer and take photos, and given that it was held a ski area there was sure to be a lot of climbing. The course consisted of three five-mile laps that included a mix of single track, logging roads, and lots and lots of uphill. From the starting line, you basically went uphill for 20 minutes and then descended for 10 minutes, gaining about 850 feet per lap.

Lining up with the 10 other starters, I was feeling pretty good about my changes given how I was riding up hill the week before. As the race started I fell in behind a dude wearing red booty covers who set a good pace for about 10 minutes but then started to slow up. As the race dropped out of the technical, rocky and rooty single track onto the open, sunbaked ski slopes, I picked up the pace a bit and moved into the lead of the race. By the top of the long, open climb that had me struggling in my easiest gear, I could see one guy behind me was catching up. I recognized him as Toby, a guy who I know is fast and who I used to play soccer with back in junior high and high school. As the grinding climb turned into a swoopy, rutted descent, Toby quickly caught up to me and rode a few feet behind for the remainder of that lap before dropped me at the top of the climb on the second lap.

In the third lap, I was caught by a two guys from 30-39 age category, but was able to hold onto second place until the finish line. Coming into the finish I thought I was going to get caught by a guy who was gaining on me (see picture at left). I burried myself to not get passed by him only to find out that he also was in the 30-39 age group. Ah well, it made the racing more fun.

It is interesting to see how at both this race and at the Coyote Hill race, there were some very tough technical rock crossings or sketchy high speed waterbar crossings, but unlike in the mid-Atlantic, there seems to just be the assumption that everyone will be fine riding this stuff. Dangerous sections in both of these races were not marked with "XXX" signs as in many mid-Atlantic races. Here are some pictures from the race (thanks to my uncle Dan for shooting some great shots!):